Public Speaking for Introverts

August 15, 2016

According to Chapman University’s Survey of American Fears, public speaking is the number one fear. For Americans, it beat out heights, bugs, snakes, flying, clowns, and even drowning!  So, given the anxiety surrounding public speaking, if you are reading this in North America, then there is a good chance that public speaking makes you a tiny bit nervous.

Graph showing what Americans are afraid of - Public Speaking #1

In the world of work though, especially in science, you have to present all the time.  How then can you get over a public speaking phobia, especially if you are a self-described shy introvert?

Here, we have compiled a list of relevant links which will hopefully give you some tips and even inspiration to tackle your next presentation with confidence:

  1. Susan Cain, the author of the book Quiet – The Power of Introverts wrote a great article  for Psychology Today on “10 Public Speaking Tips for Introverts.”
  2. What Grey’s Anatomy Creator, Shonda Rhimes, Can Teach Us Introverts about Public Speaking is a catchy title and a great article from Career Coach, Lindsey Plewa-Schottland on how she overcame her fear of public speaking. Hint: preparation was key!
  3. Watch this TED talk on Secrets to Great Public Speaking to help you tailor your next presentation to make it go from good to great.

When trying to improve any skill, public speaking included, preparation and practice are two essential components.  If you are at the NIH, it might help you to get involved with the NIH Toastmasters Club, with open meetings every Friday at noon.  Toastmasters is an international organization with clubs and meetings all across the world aimed at helping you become a confident speaker and a strong leader.

What has helped you get over public speaking anxiety? Let us know with a comment below.


The Introverted Job Seeker

July 9, 2014

Do you have to be dragged to a networking event or cocktail party? When you do go to an event, do you have to spend the rest of the day recuperating? Do you need plenty of alone time during the day? If you answered yes to these questions, you might be an introvert. The level and intensity of introversion varies from person to person, so even if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you probably have a general sense regarding your own preference toward extraversion or introversion. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the quieter half of the population – the introverts.

In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” she argues that U.S. work culture is often biased against introverts; their quiet, reflective and serious demeanors are often trumped by extraverted traits such as being outgoing, assertive and verbose. Now, depending on your work environment, your boss’ style, and the culture of your team, it is arguable whether extraversion or introversion could be viewed more positively.

However, there is one area which is seemingly stacked in favor of the extraverted and that is the job search. Two major aspects of a job search which are especially energy draining to introverts are networking and interviewing.

Networking

How might being introverted hold you back in terms of networking? Well, it could if it means that you find yourself avoiding social situations with possible introductions to new contacts or if you find you never quite muster the energy to take that phone call or set up that informational interview.

Introverts are often excellent networkers though because they tend to observe and analyze people and situations well. Also, introverts tend to prefer listening – a great characteristic for effective networking and an excellent means for gathering new information and new contacts. Whereas an extravert might approach networking with a hard-sell mentality, an introvert tends to go in with more of a soft-sell approach, which is often a preferable way to begin building a rapport (and a larger network of professional contacts).

Just remember to care for your introverted self throughout this process. When you have to utilize your less-preferred extravert skills, you will begin to feel your energy drain. Be sure to build in time to recharge throughout your job search timeline.

Interviewing

One particularly valuable job search trait of extraverts is that they tend to think out loud. This is especially important during an interview. Interviews by design often favor an extravert’s ease in making introductions and connections.

Interview questions, especially behavioral-based interview questions, are asked so that the employer can get a feel for your thought process and how you would approach different situations. Thinking out loud – even if it isn’t stated perfectly – helps you convey information to the employer. Reticence to disclose information, shortly phrased answers, and long silences will likely hurt your chances. Introverts often assume people can read how they are thinking or feeling. Or, if in an interview, they will assume the employer knows they are excited about the position because they are there. On the contrary, employers bring you into an interview in order to see and hear your enthusiasm. Expressing this fully can be a challenge for many introverts.

The good news is that many of these skills can be practiced. You can learn better responses to interview questions, you can role play networking successfully and you can “try on” the façade of an extraverted job-seeker. This doesn’t mean you have to go out there and be something completely different and inauthentic to you; rather, challenge yourself to do things that might not feel completely comfortable to you as an introvert. Hopefully this serves as a reminder to check in with yourself about your true preferences and make sure you are taking care of yourself throughout the job search process.


Making the Most of Your Experience at NIH: The Scorecard

February 6, 2017

I arrived at NIH in October 2015. I attended the workshop “English Communication for Visiting Scientists” (ECVS) workshop in February 2016 because, as non-native speaker, I wanted to improve my communication skills. I remember that I was afraid of asking my PI to sign the written consent I needed to register for it. I soon realized how unwarranted my fear was! My PI was glad to know that I wished to improve my communication skills. This has been the first lesson I learned from The Scorecard: “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.”

The ECVS workshop. The 2-day workshop itself was very useful. I learned and practiced how to write professional e-mails and to be assertive. But most importantly, I realized that I was not alone. Instead, I was surrounded by people who understood the fear and the frustration of jumping suddenly into a completely different world. During the ECVS workshop, I learned about the Scorecard: an intensive training program to be completed within 6-months. The program (Fig. 1) envisages 10 scores earned by completing the workshops/activities. They are  grouped into four categories: career development, mentoring, leadership/management, and communication.

scorecard1-002

Fig. 1. Representation of the Scorecard categories. Numbers in squared brackets represent the points needed to complete each category. The activities I included in my scorecard are in bold.

The Action Plan. I am a person who likes challenges, so I decided to try and draft an action plan (Fig. 2). First, I identified among the listed courses/activities the ones I was most interested in. Then, I looked at the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) calendar, planned when to attend them, to ensure that I was able to meet the deadline. Last but not least, I identified what I call the “milestone” of my program, i.e. the most difficult and time intensive course. In my case, it was the “Scientists Teaching Science (STS) 9-week course”. I knew that completing it would have motivated me to keep following the plan. Among the other activities that I included in my plan, I chose to attend the Workplace Dynamics IV and V workshops and the mentoring course, and to give a presentation at OITE. I will briefly describe them in the next paragraphs by highlighting why I think they have been very useful for me.

scorecard-3

                        Fig. 2. My “action plan” to complete the Scorecard.

Career development. The milestone of my program – the STS 9-week course – is, in my opinion, a must for fellows aiming at an academic career. One of the assignments is to write the teaching philosophy statement, a fundamental piece of the academic job package! Having the opportunity to have a person with a long-term experience in education, read it and provide constructive feedback is priceless. Moreover, the course is entirely on-line and the teacher provides students with useful hints on how to organize on-line courses and incorporate active learning techniques in the classes. I simply loved it.

Leadership/Management. The Workplace Dynamics series opened my mind. At the beginning of the workshop, as soon as I realized that I had to practice by speaking to the person close to me, I wanted to run away! Yes, I am an extremely introverted person. I am afraid of talking to people, especially in a language that is not my mother tongue, and I prefer to write e-mails. E-mails that most of my colleagues never read, because they prefer to communicate verbally. It took me a while to realize that my approach was ineffective. The workshops provided me with helpful hints on how to address the differences in the personalities and communication styles between me and my colleagues that and made me more successful at work.  After attending the two workshops I needed for the scorecard, I decided to complete the series and I am going to attend the next Management Boot Camp.

Mentoring. The “Summer Research Mentor Training course” was another very helpful workshop. Similar to the STS course, one of the assignments was to write the mentoring philosophy statement. I have recently used both assignments as drafts for an application for an academic position. During the course, I learned the importance of aligning mentor/mentee goals and expectations and assessing differences in communication and learning styles. We all tend to communicate and teach the way it is most effective to us. Recognizing that what works for us does not necessarily work for other people and learn how to manage those differences is the first step to become an effective mentor. I look forward to have the opportunity to mentor a summer student.

Communication. As an introverted, not native speaker, presentations were a huge obstacle for me. I love to design and sketch them out but, until several months ago, I would have paid someone else to deliver them in my place. Most importantly, I would never have volunteered for a presentation. I now realize that my fear to present caused me to miss many valuable opportunities to practice! Now things have changed. Taking part in the activities suggested by the scorecard helped me to practice and build my confidence. I now look forward to presentations rather than trying to avoid them. The author of a book entitled “The Exceptional Presenter” states: “The time to practice is during your normal daily routines, when habits can be formed and mistakes are not costly.”

Final thoughts. All that said, the Scorecard simply acted as “firestarter”. The goal of earning a training certificate motivated me to engage in the program and meeting the deadlines helped me to stay on track. However, as soon as I realized how useful the program was, I attended many other courses beyond the Scorecard. When I earned the ECVS certificate, however, I was really surprised to know that nobody else completed the scorecard before me. So, I decided to write this post to encourage other fellows to engage in it.

Please fellows, don’t think you don’t have the time and don’t be a “rat in the lab”!  Please bear in mind that the knowledge you will gain by completing the Scorecard training program will help you feel better in your lab, communicate more effectively with your PI and colleagues, and develop your career. And please, please don’t miss any opportunity to practice your communication skills!

So, what are you waiting for? The next ECVS workshop is on March 1st, don’t miss it!

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This post was written by guest blogger, Dr. Antonella Ciancetta, Visiting Fellow at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and first fellow who earned the English Communication for Visiting Scientists Certificate


Personality Type and Burnout

November 14, 2016

Image of file folder and pens in a briefcaseHave you ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? If so, you know that this is an assessment with the aim of measuring your personality preferences along four different dichotomous dimensions. The MBTI helps people answer the following questions:   Where do you focus your attention and/or get your energy?; How do you prefer to take in information?; How do you make decisions?; and finally, How do you organize the world around you?

Myers and Briggs believed that in order to have a more satisfied life, people needed to better understand themselves which could then help them choose an occupation which better suited their personality.

The Myers Briggs will not tell you specific career paths you should choose; however, you can utilize your results to consider the pros and cons of different employment sectors/occupations/work environments and how much they match with your personal preferences.

What if your personal preferences clash with your work environment though? It is very common to see an employee who is dissatisfied and on the road to burn out because their job doesn’t match their personal preferences. How does this look along the different dimensions of the MBTI?

Extroversion vs Introversion – Where do you get your energy?

A strong extrovert who is in a lab all day by themselves will become restless and bored. Extroverts tend to need outside stimuli to help maintain their enthusiasm. They enjoy being out in the world and interacting with others, so if deprived of that, their energy will begin to wane.

Conversely, introverts can get easily overwhelmed by too much external stimuli. They prefer positions where they can work alone and have quiet, reflective time. A position in sales or customer service could create stress for an introvert and more easily result in an individual feeling bunt out.

Sensing vs Intuition – How do you take in information?

Sensor like facts, details, and tend to feel most comfortable in structured work environments. Whereas, intuitives are generally open to multiple variables and they tend to respond negatively to rigid work environments and/or repetitive processes.

Intuitives tend to feel a sense of accomplishment in the creative process, but sensors like to point to firm achievements such as solved problems or finished projects. If they don’t see that, it would lead to burn out for a sensor.

Thinking vs Feeling – How do you prefer decisions to be made?

Thinkers want to see a logical approach to decision making and they crave results that make clear sense based on facts. Feelers, on the other hand, are more likely to see the emotional and sociological sides of decisions.  Feelers tend to be better at understanding the need to compromise based on office politics or diplomacy which would frustrate a thinker.

Burnout can ensue if you are in a position where you have to make decisions that are at odds with your personal preference. For example, a feeler as a bank loan officer might have a hard time removing their emotions from their job.

Additionally, thinkers and feelers could both get frustrated if the office is managed and their boss’ decisions are made in ways they don’t understand or relate to.

Judging vs Perceiving – How do you organize your world?

Judgers like things ordered and routine whereas perceivers like things spontaneous and flexible.  You can probably easily tell who is a judger and who is a perceiver in a staff/lab meetings. A judger would want an agenda and clear follow up action items while a perceiver might view the same meeting as a place to chat and brainstorm without any structure.

A disorganized work environment can be a major stressor for judgers, who like to know what is expected of them and their performance. Perceivers might feel too constrained by these limits and would prefer the autonomy and ability to innovate.  Perceivers often like jobs that are unpredictable like event planning or emergency services or even working at a new start up where they can invent the process.

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No matter your MBIT type, the key is recognizing your fit with your job. Given how much time one spends at work, it is important to consider your personal preferences in relation to the work environment. Hopefully, thoughtful consideration of yourself in relation to your work will ensure it is a good match and you won’t be prone to burn out within your role.  If you find yourself still struggling, check out our blog post on ways to prevent burn out.


Are you an Ambivert?

August 10, 2015

If you have ever taken the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), then you probably know whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. This assessment was developed based on Carl Jung’s framework of psychological types. Jung coined the terms “Extrovert” and “Introvert” to describe the direction of one’s energy flow. He felt this dimension was one of the most substantial personality differences. Even if you haven’t taken the MBTI, it is likely you have a sense of your own preference in regards to what energizes you since extroversion and introversion are widely talked about.

It’s generally considered that extroverts tend to be energized by the outside world (people, places and things around them) and their energy is externally directed; whereas, introverts tend to be energized by their inner world (own ideas, thoughts, concepts) and their energy is internally directed.

Instead of thinking of this as a label, it might be more helpful to view these preferences as a continuum. If the descriptors for introverts or extroverts have never fully resonated with you, it might be because you are a slight extrovert or a slight introvert – an ambivert.  Arrow pointing in either direction. On the left is "Introvert." In the middle is "Ambivert." On the right is "Extrovert."

Ambiverts are those who fall relatively in the middle of being introverted and extraverted. They can slide up or down the spectrum depending on the context, situation and people around them. This is often referred to as situational introversion. They tend to identify with characteristics of both personality traits and can even adapt depending on the situation. Some have likened it to ability to be ambidextrous with your personality.

The article “Not an Introvert? Not an Extrovert? You May Be an Ambivert” in the Wall Street Journal describes the ambivert as:

  • Knowing when to listen and when to talk
  • Moderate in mood – not overly expressive or reserved
  • Adaptable to situations
  • Socially flexible

We could add to this list with research findings from Professor Adam Grant. Grant works at the Wharton School of Business at Penn and he published an article entitled, “Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage.” He found that, contrary to popular belief, strong extroverts are as bad at sales as strong introverts. The ambiverts did the best by a wide margin.

Interested in finding out if you are an ambivert? Take this quiz to find out!


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Program Specialist

February 23, 2015

Name: Becky Roof, PhD

Job Title & Organization: Program Specialist, NINDS

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Dr. David Sibley, NINDS (from 2008-2012)

How long you’ve been in your current job: I’ve been in my current position a little over two years; however, I also spent six months here on a detail. I was in the same office but working for a different program.

How did you find this detail?
I did a google search for offices that were doing cool things and I contacted people. A lot of people ignored me but one person responded and then I interviewed for a detail. I had been frustrated at the time because I had been trying to get a job through USAJobs and I felt like I had useful transferable skills but I couldn’t say that I had actually done the stuff that I wanted to do.

How did your detail turn into a full-time/permanent position?
I ended up doing a full-time detail in the office for six months and then when a position opened up in the office, I was able to say that I had done that work, so I was able to get through the USAJobs process when I applied.

What do you do as a Program Specialist?
I work in the Office of Translational Research in NINDS. I work in two programs that give grants to researchers looking to translate their basic science findings into something that will benefit patients with neurological disorders. One program that I work with is called IGNITE, which is very new. It stands for Innovative Grants to Nurture Initial Translational Efforts. It is an early stage program to help people get ready for later-stage translational programs which we already have up and running in our office. And the second program is the Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR program. This is a congressionally mandated program that spans eleven federal agencies.

The role of program in this is writing the funding opportunities, advising the applicants, and making funding recommendations to council based primarily on review comments. I help with moving grants through that process. I also help with things like workshops, websites, twitter, managing the budget, and doing analyses.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
I’m going to break this up into two different categories because I remember being a postdoc and trying to think about what skills I had that were transferable and what skills I needed to develop.

One thing I do a lot of which I didn’t do much of in the lab is working as a team. Everything I do is very dependent on other people and they depend on me a lot more than when I was in the lab. Everything is done as a committee and everything is decided as a group. There are a lot of interpersonal skills and teamwork that I do now that I didn’t do much of in the lab.

Another thing that I do a lot of now, which I didn’t do much of before is juggling a lot of different tasks. Before, in an interview, I would say, “Sure, I can multitask because I can run two different experiments at a time.” Now, I have way more balls in the air than I did before and that was something that I had to learn.

Some of the things that I do now which are very transferable from what I did in the lab include: analysis, critical thinking, and being able to work in a very detail-oriented but also big picture way. Right now, I manage budgets and I move grants through the process and that is all very detail-oriented and you really can’t let anything fall through the cracks. However, I also do a lot of big picture thinking. For example I helped with the planning of a whole new program. Another example is thinking about how to best do outreach or to help grantees continue to succeed after their grant is done. There are a lot of big issues, which is really fun. It is also something that I did in the lab. I had to plan these individual experiments while thinking about how this fits into the big picture.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
It’s very challenging, but there are some really cool things. It is really cool to see a very broad view of science. In the lab, I was very focused on one receptor but now there are hundreds of diseases within the mission of NINDS and I see grants looking at a range from drug development to diagnostics to devices — all kinds of things. It is a really diverse portfolio and it is really cool to see a very broad view of neuroscience. It’s also really cool that I feel like we can shape the landscape of science. When we put out a new funding opportunity announcement, it can encourage scientists to go in a new direction. In that way, we can shape the field in a much broader way than when I was in the lab. I also really like supporting science; if somebody that we supported succeeds, I can feel proud that, in some small way, I helped make that happen. I will never be in the spotlight for the discovery but I had some role to play in bringing that to patients and that is exciting to me.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career? What are some of the challenges you face?
Oh, it is an extremely different environment. It was a hard transition. It’s drinking from the fire hose here. The whole grant process is very complicated and there are a lot of details that you can’t drop. It’s just a very different world. Learning how government works was different as well; for example, trying to set up a workshop can require HHS approval, which can take twelve months. Learning the limitations of what can and can’t be done and then looking for creative ways to work within the system is challenging. There are just many things that you have to learn. Plus, you are working with so many other people and you aren’t just doing your own thing.

Being on detail was also a struggle for me in that it is a temporary assignment – you only have a three month MOU and my job back in the lab was gone. That was a struggle because I didn’t have a lot of stability at that time.

How did you come to choose this as your next step, including the process of deciding to pursue a detail?
Well, it was kick started when my mentor was running out of money for me, which I think happens to a lot of postdocs. I followed the advice of your office and even though I am an introvert by nature, I contacted a lot of people and did a lot of informational interviews to learn about a lot of different kinds of jobs. I talked to people in government but I also talked to people in nonprofits. At NIH, I talked to people in review and in program. After hearing about a lot of different things, I decided that program work sounded really exciting. Once I made that decision, then I started the process of applying to jobs and like I mentioned that didn’t work out and I eventually started looking for the detail.

Any last bits of advice?
I was pretty shy about talking to people I didn’t know, like a friend of a friend or a complete stranger for an informational interview. I really hesitated to do it, but your office suggested that I do it and so I did. And, it really made all the difference. That is really how I found out what I wanted to do and it is how I got the detail. My best advice is to not be shy about doing that.


Shy???

July 5, 2011

What does it mean to be “shy” or “introverted”? These words come with negative baggage.  U.S. culture values engaging others and taking action. Scientific culture expects us both to work independently – a skill that involves careful reflection on one’s own – and to collaborate easily with colleagues. Introverts in the U.S. may feel underappreciated or even threatened by these  expectations of extraverted behavior.

Cultural values are often reflected not just in social expectations, but also in our view of what constitutes a mental disorder. Until 1980, “shyness” was considered normal; in that year “social anxiety disorder” was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which catalogs mental disorders.  Some might suggest that this action pathologizes both shyness and introversion. The article “Shyness: An Evolutionary Tactic”  (The New York Times, June 25, 2011) asks whether society has gone too far in pathologizing introverted traits and suggests instead that we consider their benefits. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/opinion/sunday/26shyness.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

Picture: Cover art from children’s book sold by Amazon: Shy Creatures by David Mack: http://www.amazon.com/Shy-Creatures-David-Mack/dp/0312367945